Is Ukraine’s Far-Right Really Courting the Most-Wanted Man in Russia?

Mar 03, 2014 at 9:03 PM ET

The Ukrainian ultra-nationalist group Pravy Sektor played a key role in the months-long protest that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, leading some of the most violent clashes with police.

But a post on Russia’s largest social-media network suggests the group has even more explosive plans: In the post, Pravy Sektor, a Christian organization, reaches out to Muslim groups in the region—including a group linked to Al-Qaeda—in an effort to build a coalition capable of ousting Russians from Crimea by whatever means necessary.

Pravy Sektor is no moderate group. During the recent protests in Ukraine that toppled the president, it opposed negotiations with the government and took an active role in clashes with the police, even launching Molotov cocktails at government forces. Its members don’t support ties with the European Union or Russia. They are Ukrainian nationalists who fear “the death of Christianity” in their country. Some members who joined the protests in Kiev wore yellow armbands signifying their allegiance to a Neo-Nazi party.

But it would highly unusual for a far-right Christian group with neo-Nazi leanings to join forces with far-right Muslim groups, including a top Chechen bomber. And that’s what the post on the popular Russian-language social network Vkontakte suggests happened. The post, which appeared on Pravy Sektor’s account on Vkontakte this weekend before it was deleted, said the group is now gearing up to confront the Russians head on in Crimea, and wants to enlist the help of a guy known as the “Bin Laden of Russia.”

That man, Doku Umarov, is a Chechen Islamist militant responsible for several attacks on Russia, including the 2010 Moscow Metro bombing and the 2011 Domodedovo International Airport bombing. More recently, in July 2013, Umarov posted a video on YouTube (that has since been deleted) calling on Islamic insurgents in disputed regions of the Caucuses, including Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, to sabotage the Sochi Olympics “using all the means that Allah permits.”

The message from Pravy Sektor on Vkontakte said: “Bloodshed unifies the Ukrainian and Caucasus people. Many Ukrainians, weapons in hand, as well as other Caucasian people, supported the Chechens in their war for independence, and now is the time to support Ukraine. As the Right Sector (Pravy Sektor) leader I’m calling to activate your war—Russia is not as strong [as people] think, now we have a [winning] chance, take advantage of it.”

The post disappeared soon after it went up, and Pravy Sektor said in a statement that its account had been hacked. It’s entirely possible that the post on Vkontakte was fabricated and was part of the larger propaganda war between Russia and the Ukraine. (We reported earlier today that pro-Ukranian hackers briefly took over the pro-Russia site Russia Today this weekend.) What better way to fragment a group like Pravy Sektor than to suggest that it is willing to team up with Islamic mercenaries.

Yet at the same time, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated news outlet KavkazCenter had reports suggesting that several Chechen groups may have already deployed to Crimea and that their job is to organize a series of bloody provocations. The outlet is often the first to publish activities of the Islamic Emirate Caucuses (the Al-Qaeda affiliated group in Chechnya).

Pravy Sektor has also tried to solicit action from the Tatar community in Crimea through social media. Tatars, an Turkic ethnic minority in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, have a long and tortured history with the Russian Empire going back hundreds of years. But following the collapse of the Soviet Union they found relative autonomy with Ukraine. Today they make up 12% of the Crimean population.

The Pravy Sektor post on Vkontakte warned that Russian authorities were planning a massacre on the Crimean Tatar community, an anti-Russian Muslim minority. It claimed Crimean authorities have instructed hospitals to prepare for large numbers of killed and wounded.

Pravy Sektor called on the Tatar community to take up arms against the Russians. Vocativ reported yesterday that Tatars in Crimea were self-organizing into militias. Pravy Sektor have since reported that these groups were heading towards Simferopol and Sevastopol, located in Crimea.